Ollie Baba was my first 4-H lamb. He was a triplet, but his mother was not particularly excited about the novelty of triplets, so I adopted him. I delighted in giving Ollie his bottle and watching the warm milk dribble down his chin while I scratched his wooly ears. Soon, he learned to recognize my voice in the barn and skipped happily up to the fence to greet me.
For at least three weeks, I loved him. He was so easy to tame, I knew we were going to win a blue ribbon at the fair.
Then my grandmother opened the fences and let the sheep out to pasture for the first time that spring and everything changed. Ollie Baba kicked up his heels and sprang about on all fours. He nibbled sweet new grass and pretended to buck his brothers. When I came out to visit him, he shook his head and ran the other way.
Every day after that, I walked out to the barnyard and tried to get Ollie Baba to come to me. He responded by stomping his feet and dashing away and getting his head stuck in farm equipment. I was not amused. We had training to do if we were going to win some awards.
Putting a halter on him might help, I reasoned. That way, I could secure him with a leash. I sloshed through ankle-deep mud and hid behind the chicken coop so I could sneak up on him. Ollie Baba saw me coming, waited until I was almost close enough to grab him, then he dashed away at the last second, splattering mud all over my jeans.
“That is not cute!” I yelled at him and started chasing him with the halter. “I should have named you Ollie Dodo! If you don’t learn to behave, I’M GOING TO SHOW A RABBIT!”
My grandpa, who was on the other side of the electric fence working on the John Deere, watched the whole thing with amusement. “It’s not how he’s behaving that’s the problem,” he said, “it’s how you’re reacting.”
That is so completely not true, I thought. He knows better. He’s just not doing it. ButI was too angry to want to talk about it. Leave it to me to pick the most bone-headed sheep in the flock. He was incorrigible, and because of him, I was going to look like an idiot on fair day.
“The judges are used to sheep acting like sheep,” my grandpa continued, as if Ollie’s infractions were not the point. “He can’t make you look any worse than you are. But if you handle him well, it will just make you look better.”
Also not true, I thought. I was unwilling to take any responsibility for the impending fair mortification. This disaster is totally Ollie’s fault. I sulked all the way into the house and hung up the muddy halter. Stupid sheep.
Of course, Grandpa was right. I didn’t learn it that summer, and I didn’t learn it in time for the fair in the fall. But God has a way of repeating failed lessons until we learn them, I’ve had this one on auto-replay ever since God gave me children.
Children are like sheep. They are cute and cuddly, and I want them to behave perfectly so I can keep up the appearance that I have it all together. Is that too much to ask?
But like sheep, they are completely incapable of making me look better than I really am. It is not their nature, and it certainly isn’t their job.
They act out. Kids will misbehave and throw temper tantrums at the least opportune moments, like right when the neighbor lady shows up unannounced. They will shout out, “Are we done yet?” in the middle of your husband’s sermon and admit to a crowd of people that you did not brush their teeth the night before.
Worse, they will lie, cheat, and steal. They will act out of anger and vengeance. They will be defiant, rebellious, and prideful. They will get their heads stuck in all sorts of awful places.
And, oh! How I hate to see this, not just because it is destructive to my child but also because it reflects badly on me. That’s not something I readily admit to people but it’s true! I become frustrated because I feel like I’m standing in the judges’ circle and everyone is giving me marks on how well my children behave. No one wants to be the parent with the screamer when the judges are taking notes.
But sin is never the end of the story. It is only the beginning.
All children, myself included, start with the same story. We all start with a complete inability to do good, much less make anyone else look good. If I expect my child to be my walking achievement award, I will be frustrated because he will always fail. He simply cannot live up to that expectation.
Neither can I. I certainly don’t always act in a way that makes my Father look good. In fact, the only thing about my actions that makes my Father look good is the way He responds to them. It’s what He does with my incorrigible, willful heart that testifies to Who He is, not what I did in the first place.
No matter what my actions are, God is always loving, patient, forgiving, and restoring. He does not treat me with contempt or say things like, “I can’t believe you did that!” He does not count to three or yell. He does not threaten to leave me behind. He doesn’t air my sins in front of the entire universe so everyone will see how hard He has it. Nor does He ignore my sin. He never shies away from righteous discipline.
God always responds to me rightly. And that makes Him look good because God is good.
The same thing is true of sheep, as my grandfather pointed out, and the same thing is true of children. Your child’s behaviors do not reflect badly on you; your reactions to their behaviors reflect badly on you.
It is when I chase the sheep around the barnyard that I look foolish, not the fact that the sheep ran away. It is when I yell for my child to come inside right now that makes me look impatient, not the fact that he didn’t come the first time I called. It is when I ignore sin and stay on the couch instead of disciplining ungodly behaviors that makes me look like a bad mother, not the fact that my kid developed a sinful habit.
But if that child acts out, and I know he will, and kicks and screams and refuses to climb down from the curly slide at McDonald’s, and I respond to him firmly and quietly, discipline in a loving way, and forgive him immediately, doesn’t that make me look good? Of course it does, because that is a supernatural love shining through a broken moment. That is not the appearance of good. That is good.
And that is exactly what my grandpa was trying to tell me so many years ago. The day after I had given up all hope of training my lamb, I saw my grandmother leading Ollie Baba around. She had the halter on his head, but she wasn’t using it. She had one hand under his chin and one under his tail, and she was directing him wherever she wanted him to go.
I was astounded. Uh-stoun-ded.
“How did you do that?” I demanded, pulling on my coat and slipping into my barn shoes.
“You just have to be patient,” she said, “and it doesn’t hurt to bring him some grain.”
Ollie tried to turn at the sound of my voice but Grandma held him steady. “Now Ollie,” she said calmly and tightened her grip on his chin. Ollie quieted. It was remarkable.
I knew the heart of that beast was willful beyond measure. Just the day before, he had made me look completely incompetent. I could see now that I was completely incompetent. But under the hands of a loving shepherd, Ollie’s willfulness only glorified her skill. Grandpa was right. Ollie could not make anyone look worse.
But when my grandma responded to him rightly, she looked very good indeed.
Join us tomorrow for Day 11: Praise
For further thought
1) As parents, we are in the unique position of being both parents and children. How did your experiences as a child impact the way you parent? Were you expected to make your parents “look good”?
2) Think about specific instances in the past week where your child’s behavior made you cringe. How could your response to that action have changed it from a shameful moment to a glorifying moment?
3) Sin is never the end of the story. Have you taken the time to reconcile your sins with God? Have you allowed Him the opportunity to respond rightly to your disobedience? It’s never going to be any easier than right now. Take a moment to confess your need to God. Trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. Your Father-God will hear and answer!